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Q&A with Erinn Ford, Advisor Group

We sat down with Erinn Ford from Advisor Group to pick her brain on the state of the financial services industry. Where are we now? Where are we headed? Who will lead us into the future? Erinn offers her insights on some of the burning questions facing the industry.

Advisor Group is sponsoring the upcoming Diversitas Symposium, taking place Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021. The virtual event is free to attend and will dive into the future of the industry and opportunities for young professionals looking to succeed in financial services. Register to attend here.

 

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about the wealth management industry?

One of the single biggest misconceptions is that financial services is only for salespeople. In my conversations with college students, there’s a misperception that only people who are making cold calls or closing sales will thrive in our industry.

I think we can say this is obviously not the case. Companies in our industry employ writers and editors, operations leaders, customer experience service specialists, project managers, economists, marketers, researchers, and more. There are many paths to success in wealth management, and these many paths accommodate a wide range of personal and professional attributes.

 

Tell us about the work you do to increase diversity and inclusion in financial services.

One of the basic building blocks to driving greater diversity and inclusion in any industry is introducing the vital role that our profession plays in our day-to-day lives of people.

While I’ve just recently become an empty-nester, with both of my daughters off to college this academic year, I’ve always loved visiting campuses and engaging students. I’ve been to a number of colleges and universities, and each time I’ve experienced a genuine interest from students to learn about our industry.

Within Advisor Group, I have a real opportunity to help drive diversity initiatives by focusing on mentoring programs, youth programs, and more.

In addition to liaising with the FARE (Financial Alliance for Racial Equity) Coalition on upcoming initiatives, I’m currently proposing the establishment of a sponsorship program that will bring together high-potential proteges and executives.

I’m also active in our Women Forward program at Advisor Group, in support of our female financial advisors.

 

Have you/your firm launched any initiatives to bring more diverse talent to the industry?

As a member of Advisor Group’s Executive Committee, I’m proud of the commitment our firm has made to diversity and inclusion. Our efforts are centered around awareness, communication, public presence and commitment, and partnership with universities. For example:

  • Our senior leaders are active in diversity and inclusion-focused leadership panels at industry events and colleges across the country.
  • Our award-winning Women Forward initiative promotes success for women as both providers and consumers of financial services, while our NextGen initiative supports financial advisors who are in the first 15 years of their career.
  • Advisor Group is a founding member of the Parity Pledge, committing to interview at least one woman and one person of color for every open position, at the Vice President level and above.
  • We’re participating in the CFP Board Diversity Summit and Career Fair and are a sponsor of the 2022/2023 CFP Board Scholarship.

 

What characteristics or traits do you commonly see among successful advisors? Do you have any advice for aspiring advisors on how to hone those traits?

The most successful financial advisors take a holistic approach to their role in their clients’ lives. They understand that they’re not just dealing with numbers, but they’re dealing with hopes and dreams.

They are dedicated and have a continued curiosity of learning about our profession through continued education, keep up with trends, and staying in touch with clients. They are committed to customer experience. Being “high touch” when it comes to clients reassures those clients and it alerts advisors to gaps and opportunities, whether it’s college planning or estate services.

Most clients leave their financial advisors because the communication and engagement ball was dropped. It’s why heirs leave, as well. Engaging your clients and their families is key to long-term .  My advice: look at everything you do from your clients’ perspective. I have deployed this “outside in” methodology throughout my career and it’s been a game changer.

 

What advice would you give students looking for internships in the field, and how should they maximize their time during those internships?

Use your network. You’ve got one, even if you don’t realize it. Your best friend’s cousin who works in customer service at a mutual fund company? Let her know what you’re looking for. Your neighbors, your relatives, your teachers. Your college’s Alumnae Association. All can help.

Don’t forget job boards. Advisor Group posts to 14+ diverse job boards. Make a list of companies that interest you. Check out their websites or give their HR departments a call.  Once you’ve landed a spot, introduce yourself to everyone! Our business is a relationship business. And the financial services industry boasts some of the most generous folks around, filled with people who love the industry and are happy to mentor new professionals. Volunteer for projects, even if they are a little out of your comfort zone. You’ll meet new people and learn new things… while showing all you bring to the table.

Financial services is full of folks willing to mentor you. After all, helping people is what we do for a living! At Advisor Group, our MyMentorConnect platform matches mentors and mentees from across our network of financial advisors. Our home office offers an internal mentoring program for employees, as well. But, connecting with a mentor can be as easy as saying hello. I’ve found that people enjoy sharing their expertise and knowledge. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s the best way to learn!

 

What are you most excited for at this year’s Diversitas Symposium?

So much! An outstanding array of thought leaders, both from financial services and the education spheres, will be on hand to share their insights. I can’t wait to hear their thoughts on a wide range of topics. And, university and high school students with an interest in our industry will join us. I’m looking forward to learning best practices from breakout sessions, networking with all of these leaders, and meeting the next generation of financial advisors.

I’m so impressed by the caliber of speakers and presenters who will be at Diversitas. The agenda is a thoughtful one, that truly speaks to the importance of diversity and inclusion in the financial services industry. I’ll be sure to come away with actionable ideas and solutions, while also establishing relationships with experts in the field who can inform my firm’s efforts around this imperative ideal.

Organizations like Diversitas can only strengthen the wealth management industry. Education is key to any endeavor. Diversitas shines a light on efforts to increase diversity and inclusion, and I believe will play an important role now and in years to come as our industry evolves and embraces different perspectives.

Erinn Ford is Executive Vice President of Advisor Engagement at Advisor Group, the nation’s largest network of independent wealth management firms, which oversees approximately $475 billion in client assets. In this role, Erinn directs enterprise efforts to ensure consistency and accountability and drive desired metrics to manage the overall financial professional experience for its six wealth management firms and 10,000+ financial professionals. She provides executive oversight for the National Advisory Board, Corporate Communications, and Business Coaching & Consulting.

 A 30-year veteran of the wealth management industry, Erinn is the former CEO of Advisor Group subsidiary firm KMS Financial and the former President of Cetera Advisors. Earlier, she served as Chief Marketing Officer for Pacific West Financial Group.

Don't forget to register! The Diversitas Symposium is on November 3.